Verbal abuse – we don’t have to take that [expletive]

If someone is being verbally abusive to you, do you just accept it as part of the job?  Do you ask them to stop?  How about verbal abuse directed at patients or family members?  How much effort is expected of us to correct bad patient behaviors?  If they say, “get me my medicine you [expletive],” are we supposed to drop everything and go get their meds, or do we stand up and say, “I would be happy to get the medication you are requesting when you start acting appropriately.”?

Mighty Nurse Verbal Abuse

It's probably best to think, not say, certain things to verbally abusive patients, but it's also okay to stand up for yourself.

My favorite case in dealing with verbal abuse wasn’t even directed at my coworkers or me.  It came when a ten year old boy was brought into the ER because he was bit by a raccoon after poking it with a stick. Unfortunately for this boy, he was going to be getting the rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin shots.  The patient was understandably upset about the shots, but then he pulls out the big guns and says, “I hate you mom, you are a [expletiving expletive].”

This pushed too many of my buttons, so I put my stuff down, told the kid to come with me, and escorted him out of the ER.  I could see that the mom was worried about letting her son go off with some pissed off male nurse, but a little eye contact and nod of the head convinced her that things would be okay.

Out in the hallway I told the boy that his mom deserves to be treated better than that, and he shouldn’t speak to her like that.  She was just doing what was in his best interest.  I admitted that getting shots was no fun, but he had to ‘man up and take it.’  I also told him he was going to go back into the room, apologize to his mother, sit there and let me give him his shots, and say thank you on his way out of the ER when everything was over.  Not only did he say “thank you,” but so did his mother.

When it comes to verbal abuse that is directed at me, I will usually use some smart-alecky statement to lighten the situation, or at least make me enjoy the experience more.  If they are cursing too loudly, I will often remind them that we have children in the ER, and they need to stop using that type of language.

Did you say “eff off”?
Many sizes of needles.
A big bore for you.
– A haiku from post author Jason Hautala’s book Haiku STAT!: A Poetic Look at the Harsh Realities of Emergency Medicine

Administration has put posters all over the walls explaining patient’s rights, but I think it is time that we stand up for ourselves and expect patients and family members to treat us with some respect and politeness.

Sure, major trauma victims will be cursing and screaming in pain, but most of the chronic psychosocial dystrophy patients we see should be held to a higher standard and instructed on proper hospital etiquette if they also expect to be treated with respect. Is common courtesy too much to ask from our patients and their families?

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